Universal Design Kitchens Blend Functional Elements with Beautiful Style

Smart, functional elements are important in every kitchen design, but nowhere are they more critical than in a kitchen created for those with special needs. The challenge in creating a Universal Design kitchen lies in addressing all of the functional and safety issues at hand and incorporating the solutions unobtrusively – without sacrificing the aesthetics of the space.
Indeed, the definition of Universal Design is that the space be “accessible to all people, regardless of age, size or ability.” And the Universal Design kitchen is truly a space that functions for all of its users.
When planning a kitchen with Universal Design needs in mind, it’s important to consider the following:
--Is there enough room to move freely? Space is a key feature in Universal Design, and in the kitchen, enough room in aisles – especially around islands – is a major factor in accommodating users with limited mobility who may be using walkers or wheelchairs. A minimum width of 42" is required in the work aisle, with recommendations going all the way up to 58". The rule of thumb is to have a 5' radius of clear turning space throughout the room.
--Are there multiple work surfaces set at varying heights? Work surfaces of multiple heights for multiple users work best so that everyone in the household can take part in kitchen activities. Specify at least one work surface that is no higher than 34" from the floor that can be used by children and those in wheelchairs. A pull-out cart on casters under the sink adds a usable work surface while allowing for wheelchair access to the sink. A pull-out surface under the microwave as well as next to the wall oven allow for quick placement of hot items.
--Can interior items in cabinets be accessed? The design of the cabinetry inside and out is key to how the room functions. Base cabinets with drawers provide easier access to contents, including plates that can be placed in one step from the dishwasher. Electronic, touch-to-open drawers provide automatic access when hands are full, and large handles and pulls on cabinet doors and drawers are easier to grab and hold than knobs. Blind corner pull-outs or lazy susans help access items in the back of base cabinets, while storage accessories for pantries and upper cabinets – such as roll-out shelves and pull-down units – bring items to the user. Consider placing upper cabinets 15" above the counter, as opposed to the 18" standard, for easier access. Glass front cabinets and open shelving are also good options, as they allow users to see what is available to them without having to search through cabinet interiors.
--Are appliances working efficiently in the space? Appliances need to be placed thoughtfully and with optimum function and safety in mind. Wall ovens that can be placed at needed levels, and microwaves in lower cabinets, work well in the Universal Design kitchen. Elevated dishwashers and side-by-side refrigerator/freezers provide easy access for those with limited mobility. Remote-controlled ventilation solves the issue of controls being out of reach.
--Is color being used efficiently? Color in the Universal Design kitchen does more than enhance the aesthetic. Countertops that are a contrasting color from the surrounding cabinets and backsplash, or a countertop with a contrasting edge, allows those with limited sight to determine where one surface ends and another begins. A contrasting tile border or band of tile, or a contrasting color used around the room, can also be used as a guide to those who are visually impaired.
--Has safety been considered in all areas? It’s important not to miss the details. Front or side controls on the cooktop or range help prevent burns or exposure to gas flames, and induction cooktops remain cool to the touch at all times. Pull-out or pull-down faucets with single handles allow for ease of use, while touch or touchless faucets eliminate the need to reach for handles or grab with messy hands. To see cabinet interiors and read labels, cabinet lighting is a must. Proper task lighting above work zones and ample natural light aid in prep work and getting around safely. For added mobility, slip-resistant, non-reflective flooring such as cork, distressed wood and slate work well.

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